Given the broad-based revulsion in Israel to these statements, why is this happening again? Why are rabbis in Israel continually susceptible to these types of moral lapses?
One explanation is that rabbis in Israel are free from the fear of worrying about "what the goyim will say," and whether their remarks will incite anti-Semitic responses. While this explanation may have been true of Diaspora life for centuries it no longer reflects Jewish experience. Most Jews have left the exile not through making Aliyah, but by embracing their communities as their new homes. They don’t see the world as a dichotomous us-them, but as a place they want to learn from and contribute to.
No rabbi in the world would ever forbid living in neighborly relations with the non-Jew, not simply because such a ruling is politically self destructive, but rather because it does not reflect the values and experiences that have come to define the nature of Jewish life outside of Israel.
However, while instinctively rejecting the racist immorality of these few rabbis, the Israeli attitude toward non-Jews often reflects that of the shtetl. Despite our power we feel threatened and endangered by the Arab population in Israel and around us. That is not to say that many of these feelings are not without cause.
Learning from world Jewry
However, one of the greatest challenges facing modern Israel is not to allow the Middle East conflict to transform Israel into the largest ghetto in Jewish history. We cannot allow the fostering of a Judaism which aspires to further alienate us from our neighbors and which permits racist and separatist ideologies.
We can no longer allow our government to fund for political considerations Jewish ideologies, rabbis, teachers, or schools which undermine the moral fiber of Judaism and Israel's democratic character.
We have embarked on a momentous project - to build a homeland for the Jewish people, where the best of Jewish values define the public sphere, a place where all Jews have a stake and a role in shaping this society's future.
We Israelis must learn that we have much to learn from the Judaism of Jews around the world. Building Judaism in a minority context has enhanced our moral sensitivity and opened us to some of the best ideas and values that the world has to offer.
The opportunity created by Israel to take full responsibility for a society and which positions Judaism on a world stage creates unparalleled opportunities for Jewish innovation, pride, and experience outside of Israel, as well.
This opportunity brings great challenges. Jews of moral principles in Israel and around the world must make sure that our response to those who are creating a Judaism in Israel unworthy of our tradition will neither prevail nor represent us.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Israel
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